Senseless and Stupid

-->
criminal justice

Somebody must have locked The Donald in the basement this morning long enough to issue a statement in his name that sounds nothing like him. It was bland enough to not piss anybody off, in other words.

Except for one thing.

According to Aaron Blake, the statement included the line “The senseless, tragic deaths of two motorists in Louisiana and Minnesota reminds us how much more needs to be done.” This outraged many wingnuts, who refuse to believe  Alton Sterling and Philando Castile didn’t deserve to die. “I thought Trump supported LE [law enforcement]” mourned one guy.

It is clear that the shooter(s) was not affiliated with Black Lives Matter. BLM has issued a statement disavowing the shootings, and also saying,

Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible. We continue our efforts to bring about a better world for all of us.

Some People literally didn’t get the memo. A lot of voices — coming entirely from the Right, from what I see — are calling for escalating violence. For example

Most notably, Former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh went on a tweetstorm against the Black Lives Matter movement, and cryptically warned, “This now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives punks. Real America is coming for you.” Because apparently the president of the United States is not “real America.”…

… Naturally, self-proclaimed “Internet supervillain,” Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, also immediately leapt into the fray, declaring Thursday night, “Black Lives Matter now gunning down police officers. Time to classify it as a terrorist organization. We need President @realDonaldTrump.” Drudge Report, likewise, swiftly announced “Black Lives Kill.” And The Blaze’s Tomi Lahren tweeted, then deleted, “Meet the new KKK, they call themselves ‘Black Lives Matter’ but make no mistake, their goals are far from equality.”

And then there’s this:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called protesters who ran away from the hail of bullets that rained down on Downtown Dallas on Thursday night “hypocrites” during an interview Friday on Fox News.

“All those protesters last night, they turned around and ran the other way expecting the men and women in blue to protect them. What hypocrites!” an audibly emotional Patrick said.

If I believed in hell, I’d want there to be a special room where people like Lt. Gov. Patrick will be forced to write “I’m sorry I was such an idiot” on a blackboard for the rest of eternity. With bad chalk.

Share Button
19 Comments

More Spontaneous Public Executions

-->
criminal justice

Two more horrific murders of black men at the hands of police. Details are still coming to light, but it appears Alton Sterling, 37, was selling CDs on the street outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. A homeless man called the police to tell them Sterling was “brandishing a gun,” but so far no one else who saw Sterling noticed this.  Police showed up, immobilized Sterling on the ground, and then shot and killed him while he was immobilized. I don’t see any other way to interpret the videos of the incident. Sterling may or may not have been carrying a gun, but we’re talking about Louisiana here — very lenient gun laws.

Philando Castile, 32, died in a Minneapolis hospital after being shot by police after being pulled over for driving with a broken tail light. My understanding is that Castile informed the police officer that he was carrying a concealed weapon, for which he had a permit. Then the officer told him to show some ID. Castile reached for his wallet and was shot.

Of course, Sterling and Castile were black. Meanwhile, some white yahoo in Raleigh actually shot at cops and was apprehended without injury.

But right now I want to talk about reactions. As of this writing I don’t believe Donald Trump has made any statement whatsoever about the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. He’s still whining that people called him an anti-Semite, for some reason.

After Alton Sterling’s death Hillary Clinton issued a fairly standard this-is-just-awful statement that says a lot and nothing at the same time. Here ’tis:

“The death of Alton Sterling is a tragedy, and my prayers are with his family, including his five children. From Staten Island to Baltimore, Ferguson to Baton Rouge, too many African American families mourn the loss of a loved one from a police-involved incident. Something is profoundly wrong when so many Americans have reason to believe that our country doesn’t consider them as precious as others because of the color of their skin.

“I am glad the Department of Justice has agreed to a full and thorough review of this shooting. Incidents like this one have undermined the trust between police departments and the communities they serve. We need to rebuild that trust. We need to ensure justice is served. That begins with common sense reforms like ending racial profiling, providing better training on de-escalation and implicit bias, and supporting municipalities that refer the investigation and prosecution of police-involved deaths to independent bodies. All over America, there are police officers demonstrating how to protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force. We need to learn from and build on those examples.

“Progress is possible if we stand together and never waver in our fight to secure the future that every American deserves.”

Can’t really argue with it, except I would have said “atrocity” instead of “tragedy.” But we don’t want to piss off police unions, I guess. And the statement has a kind of boilerplate quality to it that skims the surface too much, to my mind. And how’s about making DOJ reviews automatic after police shootings? Still, it’s something, when what we got from Trump was nothing.

What was it T. S. Eliot wrote — not with a bang, but a whimper? Instead we get lots of bangs, followed by whimpering.

Share Button
9 Comments

HRC’s Non Indictment

-->
Obama Administration

FBI director James Comey’s announcement that Hillary Clinton would face no criminal charges regarding the emails actually was something of a relief. I didn’t expect her to be indicted, and I’m damn tired of the children on social media eagerly anticipating the indictment that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t help that clickbait sites and hacks like H.A. Goodman continued to exploit the last, best hope of Bernie Sanders die-hards by promising them an indictment.

Charles Pierce has a good analysis of the email issue. Once again, Hillary Clinton used absolutely terrible judgment.  This is from FBI.gov:

 Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.

In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails). None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail. Separately, it is important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked “classified” in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.

To which Pierce comments,

Let us also state plainly at the outset that what Comey is describing above is a more than legitimate issue in the presidential campaign, and that “Hoorah! I’m Not Indicted!” isn’t exactly an inspiring Message Of The Day for your first appearance on the stump with the president.

It’s inspiring enough for Clinton supporters, who remain supremely confident that Their Glorious Candidate did absolutely nothing wrong. But in a normal election year, this would have been a serious, damning blow to Clinton’s presidential hopes, indictment or no indictment.

However, it’s not a normal election year, and Donald the Doofus is ignoring the serious issue of Clinton’s terrible judgment and is instead arguing that Clinton wasn’t indicted because the system is rigged. Well, the system is rigged, but in this case there are legitimate reasons to argue she shouldn’t have been indicted. Pierce goes into those, too.

Share Button
24 Comments

Enjoy the Fourth

-->
blogging

Went to a fireworks display last night. I’m visiting family in Missouri, where people can buy their own fireworks. While waiting for the main display to start a family was setting off fountains and sprinklers and what not right next to their car. My aunt remarked that when their car blew up it would make a good display.

What can one say but … hillbillies.

More fireworks tonight, if it stops raining. Wish us all luck.

If you want to skip the intro in the video below, start it at about 57 seconds.

Share Button
16 Comments

On Safari

-->
elections

I’m visiting family in the Ozarks. It is very quiet here. Unlike Brooklyn, there are no firetrucks or ambulances roaring by every ten minutes; no incessant construction and traffic noise. It’s like a decompression chamber.

The big event in the community today was a golf cart parade followed by a hot dog roast. But it’s raining, so I didn’t go. I hope the rain doesn’t cancel all the local fireworks displays. Otherwise it will be a few days before something else happens.

The politics ads are very depressing here. One candidate after another gets on television and swears to be a constitutional conservative who will protect our rights to guns and to refuse to bake gay wedding cakes. One guy actually shoots a gun in his ad.  They’re also big on cutting taxes and reducing crime. (When “crime” is mentioned, the ads show what appear to be videos of Ferguson.)

The Missouri state legislature, which always was crazy, spends most of its time coming up with ways to restrict abortions and gay rights and un-restrict guns. I can’t tell that they do anything else. The primary function of the governor, a Democrat, is to veto stuff. He vetoes a lot of stuff. But his second term is about to expire, and he can’t run again.

The Democratic candidate for governor, Chris Koster, is a centrist who at least is good on reproductive rights and gay rights issues. I don’t have a sense of where he stands elsewhere.  The Republican candidates are tripping all over themselves to earn the title “Crazier Than Thou.” If any of them get into the governor’s office, the state is doomed.

Share Button
8 Comments

Why an Assault Weapons Ban Is Not Going to Help

-->
firearms

Hardly a day goes by that I’m not asked to sign a petition to ban assault weapons. Here is why I don’t sign them.

Folks, the term “assault weapon” doesn’t mean what you think it means. In fact, it’s so vague it really doesn’t mean much of anything and is not recognized by many firearm experts as a legitimate term. And in researching this article, I find that even firearm experts don’t agree exactly what it means. It’s so vague all manner of semi-automatic weapons used by mass shooters and criminals do not qualify as “assault weapons.”

The federal assault weapons ban in effect from 1994 to 2004 had a negligible effect on gun violence overall; perpetrators simply switched to other kinds of semi-automatic weapons not considered “assault weapons.” The assault weapons ban was a cosmetic law that made people feel good about having done something about gun violence when in fact they hadn’t done much of anything. Let’s not go down that road again.

Before we go any further, let’s define some terms.

Automatic, full auto, select fire: These are firearms that keep firing with a single pull of the trigger, until you release the trigger or the ammunition runs out. Machine guns are full auto.

Assault rifles. “Assault rifle” and “assault weapon” are not synonymous terms. An assault rifle is a military-grade weapon with full auto capacity. Assault weapons are discussed below.

Note that under U.S. law going back many years it is illegal for civilians to purchase and own full-auto weapons, including assault rifles. Congress began passing laws that regulated and restricted these weapons back in 1934, and those laws have been updated several times since then.

Note also that confusing “assault weapon” and “assault rifle” is pretty common. I’ve done it in the past, I’m sure. WaPo did it recently with a headline saying “Assault rifles are becoming mass shooters’ weapon of choice,” But the weapons being discussed in the article are semi-auto, and the writer of the article doesn’t make that clear and obviously didn’t know the subject matter well enough to be writing about it. Full auto firearms, which assault rifles are by definition, already are off the table, folks. Mass shooters nearly always use semi-auto firearms, although a single shot weapon (discussed below) does turn up occasionally.

Semi-automatic: With a semi-automatic weapon you have to pull the trigger to fire a round.  However, they automatically re-load as soon as they’re fired, so you can keep firing as fast as you can move your finger until the magazine empties.  Most firearms purchased and owned in the U.S. are semi-auto.

Assault weapons: As I said, this is a really vague term that gets defined all kinds of ways. Most of the firearms we non-shooters think of as assault weapons are those that are made to look like those cool, sexy full-auto assault rifles that are illegal for civilians to own. But in state and federal code “assault weapons” are semi-auto, not full-auto. And there are all kinds of state and federal regulations that define weapons differently, so a weapon that might be considered an “assault weapon” in one state might not be in another one.

Very basically, most definitions of assault weapon say it is a semi-automatic rifle, pistol or shotgun with a detachable magazine. But depending on the state, such a weapon might or might not be an assault weapon depending on whether it also has a pistol grip or a telescoping stock or even a grenade launcher mount.

See California’s flowchart explaining which weapons are legal in California and which are not to get a sense of how complicated this all is.

There are all kinds of rifles and other firearms that, at a glance, look more “traditional” –like the rifle you imagine your grandpa used to hunt deer — but are still semi-automatic, and there are semi-automatic “hunting rifles” that can do everything an “assault weapon” can do.

Magazine: The one defining feature of an “assault weapon” that is nearly universally agreed upon is a detachable magazine.  A magazine is an enclosed container that holds ammunition and loads it into position for firing. (This is different from a clip, which holds bullets in a sequence. A clip might be fed into a magazine, but they aren’t the same thing.)

Magazines come in many sizes and shapes and capacities. Many of us who favor gun control have argued for years that magazine capacity should be limited to some number of less than 10, for example. Gun enthusiasts insist limiting capacity would only slow a shooter down by seconds, so there’s no point doing it.  This sounds to me like a good argument for banning semi-autos with detachable magazines entirely.

Single shot: A firearm that is neither full-auto or semi-auto is called a “single shot” weapon, meaning that once you fire you have to do something to make the next bullet or cartridge or whatever load into place for shooting. Examples are pump-action shotguns or lever- or bolt-action rifles. (I believe most revolvers are considered single-shot firearms, although I’m not sure about double-action revolvers, like the .44 Magnum Smith and Wesson in the Dirty Harry movies.)

Single-shot revolvers are commonly used in robberies, I understand.  But, obviously, a single-shot firearm is not the tool of choice if you plan on killing all of the patrons in a packed nightclub, or an entire first-grade class. Single-shot firearms do show up in mass shootings sometimes. James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora movie theater shooter, had a pump-action shotgun with him. He fired six rounds from the shotgun, then went on to fire 65 rounds from a semi-auto rifle, a Smith & Wesson M&P15.

Let’s go back to “assault weapons.” I would like to retire the term. I would like to just focus on semi-automatic weapons, period.

I propose one of two things. We either put extreme restrictions on all semi-auto firearms that would strictly and severely limit magazine capacity, extend re-load time, and make them less easily portable, or we ban civilian ownership of semi-auto firearms entirely. Or, I’d suggest that a federal license would be required to own a semi-auto, and getting such a license would require demonstrating a particular need that a single-shot weapon couldn’t fill. It would also require extensive background checks, psych evaluations, and training.

But don’t ask me to support another “assault weapons” ban. There’s no point.

Share Button
29 Comments

More Stuff to Read

-->
Obama Administration

We may think about Washington and national elections when people talk about dark money, but it permeates state and local elections as well.

Voters probably know much less about the candidates in contests like that, which get little news coverage but whose winner will have enormous power to affect energy company profits and what homeowners pay for electricity. For a relative pittance — less than $100,000 — corporations and others can use dark money to shape the outcome of a low-level race in which they have a direct stake.

Over the last year, the Brennan Center analyzed outside spending from before and after the 2010 Citizens United decision in six states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts — with almost 20 percent of the nation’s population. We also examined dozens of state and local elections where dark money could be linked to a particular interest.

We found that, on average, 38 times more dark money was spent in these states in 2014 than in 2006. That’s an even greater increase than at the federal level, where dark money rose 34 times over the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Compounding the problem was the growth in “gray money,” spent by organizations that are legally required to disclose their donors but receive their funding through multiple layers of PACs that obscure its origin.

The Washington Post has published more details about the Texas mother and gun, um, enthusiast who killed her daughters. The article includes this bit:

The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office has not yet determined what led to the bloodshed Friday night, only that it began after a family argument. Deputies had responded to the home more than a dozen times in the past, reported the AP. A sheriff’s office spokesman told People magazine the calls involved a “mental crisis” related to the 42-year-old mother.

I wrote  last week that “severe mental illness” was behind only 4 percent of gun homicides in the U.S.  This may be one of those. Without knowing more details it’s hard to say. But there appears to be no way to disarm someone exhibiting mental instability, and by disarming I mean taking their firearms away from them before they kill somebody. And doing whatever is necessary to be sure they can’t acquire more.

WaPo also says Donald Trump is a charity cheapskate. Not surprised.

Share Button
1 Comment

Stuff to Read (or Watch)

-->
blogging, firearms

The New York Times has a nice investigative piece on what happens when private equity firms take over functions like fire fighting and ambulance services.

A Tennessee woman slipped into a coma and died after an ambulance company took so long to assemble a crew that one worker had time for a cigarette break.

Paramedics in New York had to covertly swipe medical supplies from a hospital to restock their depleted ambulances after emergency runs.

A man in the suburban South watched a chimney fire burn his house to the ground as he waited for the fire department, which billed him anyway and then sued him for $15,000 when he did not pay.

In each of these cases, someone dialed 911 and Wall Street answered.

Lots of buzz in social media about the Texas mother who shot and killed her two daughters and then was killed by police.

According to Christy Sheats Facebook page, she was a gun owner and vocal advocate for the second amendment.

“It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away,” Sheats wrote in March on her Facebook page, “but that’s exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.”

In other posts, she showered her daughters with praise.

“Happy Daughter’s Day to my amazing, sweet, kind, beautiful, intelligent girls,” she wrote in September 2015. “I love and treasure you both more than you could ever possibly know.”

Police who responded to reports of gunfire found the daughters lying in the street in front of their home, and the armed mother wouldn’t put down her gun, so they shot her. Authorities are already blaming “mental illness.”

British politicians who had promised everyone a pony if the UK could leave the EU are backtracking.

Before Thursday’s referendum on the country’s membership in the 28-nation bloc, campaigners for British withdrawal, known as Brexit, tossed out promises of a better future while dismissing concerns raised by a host of scholars and experts as “Project Fear.”

But that was before they won.

With financial markets in turmoil, a big drop in the pound and the prospect of further chaos, some supporters of Brexit are backpedaling on bold pronouncements they made just a few days earlier. “A lot of things were said in advance of this referendum that we might want to think about again,” Liam Fox, a former cabinet minister, told the BBC, including when and how Article 50 — the formal process for leaving the European Union — should be invoked.

See also John Oliver.

Share Button
8 Comments

What About That Britain?

-->
Europe

News from Britain is just astounding. Wales beat Northern Ireland to get into the Euro 1916 quarterfinals, for the first time ever.  And then there was that Brexit thing. Discuss.

Share Button
13 Comments

Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?

-->
Obama Administration

Lots of people have commented on the Senate’s failure to pass any of the four gun control measures it considered this week. And some of those commentaries pointed out that the measures were lame to begin with.

As I understand it, one of the measures would have provided for federal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or over the Internet, which I certainly support. Another would have blocked people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This makes for a good talking point — let’s take guns away from ISIS!  But the terrorist watch list is an opaque and mysterious thing that easily could be used to unfairly jerk people around (see Glenn Greenwald on this point). And it’s highly questionable how effective such blocking would be, anyway.

But to me, the single biggest howler among these proposals was the Republican one for a “mental illness” database.

The Senate rejected first a Republican proposal to update the background check system for gun purchases, which would have required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database. …

… Some Senate Democrats warned that the legislation’s revised definition of who would be considered mentally ill could potentially still allow those with significant psychological issues to legally purchase guns.

The “revised definition” be damned; doing this at all is objectionable on several levels.

First, “mental illness” is not a tightly defined scientific term; it could apply to a wide range of brain, behavioral and mood disorders, from mild and common to severe and rare. I do not want a bunch of politicians with no background in psychology defining it, especially since I suspect at least half of Congress currently might qualify as “mentally ill” depending on where you draw parameters. And I’m not joking.

Second, given the stigma attached to any kind of psychological disorder, a list like that could visit all kinds of discrimination against the people on it.

Third, data tell us that even severe mental illness accounts for very little of our gun violence. According to this article, people with severe mental illness commit only about 4 percent of firearm homicides in the U.S. And expecting psychiatrists to report on potentially violent patients probably won’t help;  predicting which patient might become violent is an inexact science, “only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.”

Even among our infamous mass shooters, who certainly seem to have been deranged, it’s estimated that only about 22 percent of them were “mentally ill.” And only about 11 percent had problems severe enough that they’d been reported to a doctor or another authority before the shooting. As a group, mass shooters may be less crazy than Congress. And according to this guy, only 10 percent of “jihadist terrorists” in the U.S. were mentally ill, which makes them saner than the general population.

However, there may be a connection between behavior or personality and gun ownership that does raise red flags for potential gun violence.

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”

IMO an argument could be made that people — men especially but possibly not exclusively — who are militant about their unfettered right to own and carry any firearm they want are displaying behavior that ought to disqualify them from owning guns at all.

In fact, people have made that argument.

What we’re seeing is a strong correlation between pathological anger and a desire to own multiple guns. There is also a strong correlation between pathological anger and violent behavior.  Therefore, the very people who are most motivated to purchase more than one high-powered weapon are the last people who ought to be purchasing high-powered weapons.

But maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will include “gun nut disorder” in the DSM, making it an official “mental illness.”  Then we can talk about a mental illness watch list.

Share Button
26 Comments
« Older Posts
Newer Posts »


    About this blog



    About Maha
    Comment Policy

    Vintage Mahablog
    Email Me








    Support This Site







    eXTReMe Tracker













      Technorati Profile